substantive #4: training the faithful

Several times throughout Dune we encounter some variant of the phrase "Arrakis was created to train the faithful." It's an intriguing phrase, and not just because it appears to provide a catch-all explanation for the hardships of life on Dune. What intrigues me most about this phrase is the fact that it neatly encapsulates a basic gesture common to almost all religious systems and more than a few non-religious systems: an teleological gesture whereby the meaning of a present event (in this case, a hardship) is given with reference to some future end. Such a motif is at the heart of many traditional religious (especially Christian) strategies for dealing with the problem of evil in the world: yes, this situation is bad, but God has a plan that we cannot yet see, and this plan in some sense justifies or at least explains the evil that we presently experience. "Arrakis was created to train the faithful" is a claim of the same species.

Setting aside for the moment the question of how well the phrase actually works to make the hardship of life on Dune bearable -- and I wonder how much of what we see of the Fremen's commitment is due to this kind of religious resignation, how much is due to the terraforming dream of Liet-Keyes, and how much is just the grim necessity of surving while being hunted by all manner of offworlders -- one thing I want to linger on for a moment is the phrase's odd temporality. Who would speak such a phrase? Obviously someone who wasn't one of "the faithful" wouldn't say it, or if they did they would be saying it in the company of "the faithful" as a way of trying to influence them or appeal to them or something similar. Either way, "the faithful" are centrally involved. And if the faithful are saying this, then presumably they've been trained by Arrakis already, because they are already "the faithful." So here's the odd temporality: when, precisely, was Arrakis a training-ground for the faithful? I'd posit that it only becomes a training-ground in retrospect, when "the faithful" are looking back on their experiences and integrating them into their contemporary awareness. At the time, prospectively, it's just a hell of a place to live.

Of course, the audience for a phrase like that is also important. Perhaps one of the faithful is saying it to a younger person, someone being raised in the faith, someone wondering why she or he has to do the things that she or he has been taught -- and wonders why life can't be easier. "Arrakis was created to train the faithful" might provide such a person some inner strength to get through hardship. Placing local events in context, especially cosmic context, is a time-honored strategy for transmitting tradition -- especially since providing a context also means providing a vantage-point from which to view events as fitting into that context. Ironically, saying "Arrakis was created to train the faithful" might be a significant part of a strategy of training the faithful in the first place.

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